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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/494

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

AGNOSTICISM AS DEVELOPED IN HUXLEY'S HUME.[1]
By JAMES McCOSH, LL.D.,

PRESIDENT OF PRINCETON COLLEGE.

PROFESSOR HUXLEY is a man of strong intellectual tastes and tendencies. He is evidently an enthusiast in his biological studies. It is not so generally known that he is also a metaphysician. This he has shown in his published address on Descartes and in other papers. He has now come forward to defend the study. (See "Popular Science Monthly," May, 1879.) Kant has made the remark that we can not do without metaphysics, and others have noticed that those who affect to discard them will commonly be found proceeding, without their being aware of it, upon a very wretched metaphysic. The Professor now tells us, "In truth, to attempt to nourish the human intellect upon a diet which contains no metaphysics is about as hopeful as that of certain Eastern sages to nourish their bodies without destroying life." He adds: "By way of escape from the metaphysical will-o'-the-wisps generated in the marshes of literature and theology, the serious student is sometimes bidden to betake himself to the solid ground of physical science. But the fish of immortal memory who threw himself out of the frying-pan into the fire was not more ill advised than the man who seeks sanctuary from philosophical persecution within the walls of the observatory or of the laboratory." He shows that such conceptions as "atoms," and "forces," and as "energy," "vacuum," and "plenum," all carry us, whether we will or no, beyond a physical to a metaphysical sphere.

I rather think that the Professor's metaphysics were derived primarily from David Hartley, but especially from James Mill, reckoned an age or two ago, in England, the chief philosophical authorities by those not trained at the two English universities. Hartley connected metaphysics with physiology; and James Mill, after abandoning the trade of a preacher, adopted the fundamental principles of David Hume, and transmitted them to his son John Stuart Mill, who modified and improved them by independent thought and a larger acquaintance with other systems. Professor Huxley has now, in this work on Hume, given his own philosophy, which is substantially that of Hume and James Mill, with some not very valuable suggestions from Bain, and a criticism now and then derived from Descartes and Kant, of whose profounder principles he has in the mean while no appreciation. It is expounded in the form of an epitome of the system of the Scottish scepter with constantly interspersed criticisms of his own. His style

  1. "Hume," by Professor Huxley.